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Inflammaging: Changing the Face of Skin Care

By: Noureddine Mriouah
Posted: January 2, 2013, from the January 2013 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

The skin care industry is fast approaching a watershed moment in the treatment of aging skin. Increasingly, scientific evidence suggests that many of today’s trademark treatments may actually exacerbate the conditions they’re designed to treat in the long term, thanks to a phenomenon known as inflammaging. This previously unknown consequence poses a challenge to product developers who must adapt their formulations to meet shifting consumer demands or risk losing their shares of the market. As the concept of inflammaging goes mainstream, it may result in a widespread change in the professional skin care industry, transforming everything from the ingredients that professionals use to the methods by which they use them. (See Tips to Address Inflammaging in the Treatment Room.)

Understanding inflammaging

First coined by University of Bologna professor Claudio Franceschi, PhD, more than a decade ago, inflammaging began as a theory linking underlying inflammatory changes to the causes of most age-associated diseases. Since its inception, research continues to present convincing evidence taking this concept from theory to fact.1–3

The term “inflammaging” is used to describe the aging phenomenon induced by chronic, persistent inflammation. Most people are familiar with the visible inflammation that can be seen on the surface of the skin, with redness representing a sign of infection, irritation or discomfort. However, inflammation can also be invisible. All skin—and certainly weakened or aged skin—is subject to inflammation, even at low intensities. It is this underlying inflammation that ultimately exhausts the body’s defense system, dismantling key youth-sustaining skin structures, and resulting in collagen and elastin degradation, as well as a breakdown of the skin’s barrier function.

The inflammaging process involves a highly complex chain of events, by which acute inflammation gradually gives way to chronic, or silent, inflammation. To understand how to combat inflammaging, skin care professionals must first understand the inflammatory cascade of reactions that erode the skin’s structure, ultimately manifesting in the form of deep wrinkles, hyperpigmentation and flaccid, inelastic tissue.

Acute vs. chronic inflammation

Inflammation is the body’s response to cellular aggression or injury. It represents a defense mechanism designed to heal cells from injury and protect the body from the consequences of that injury. Cell injury may occur due to trauma, genetic defects, physical and chemical aggressions, tissue death, foreign bodies, immune reactions and infections. Inflammation also facilitates early tissue healing and repair, and allows the body to restore itself to a normal form and function.

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